Building a quality, intranet-based document management system

Before 1997, whenever a manufacturing issue came up or an employee needed to be trained at our plant, someone would head into an office to find the appropriate operating procedure or training manual.


Before 1997, whenever a manufacturing issue came up or an employee needed to be trained at our plant, someone would head into an office to find the appropriate operating procedure or training manual. It was apparent that the manuals would be more useful and employees would be more productive if there was a way to immediately access information in the work areas. The question was how ?

The solution to this problem -- one that can be adapted and applied to any plant -- was to combine a quality improvement process with an Information Technology ( IT) acquisition process and establish a high-quality, interactive, intranet-based document information management system. In our case, it meant blending elements of our corporate six sigma quality improvement process with the U.S. Government's in- formation technology acquisition process. Here's how we did it.

From the outset, it was clear the solution involved our IT department, but the plant's business leaders weren't content to rely on the obvious answer alone. They wanted to make sure all aspects of the issue were addressed. So to shepherd this process, an operator procedure team was formed. Its task was to integrate the existing GE six sigma quality improvement process with the U.S. government's IT acquisition process. Its goal was to improve manufacturing documentation.

Our company's six sigma process is excellent for quality improvements within the manufacturing unit. However, it lacks the specific tools and methods needed for IT systems. The federal government has a well-established IT system acquisition process that does not contain proprietary information. Therefore, the team chose to use the tools of this government method to fill in the gaps in the six sigma process.

The GE process uses data-driven analysis performed in a specific order to guide team members through a project. It ensures that no issue is overlooked and that results can be replicated. This system also provided the team with statistically based tools for analyzing the current situation and determining the extent of any improvements made. The government's program gave the team an IT acquisition process that looks at the life cycle of a product, from beginning to end.

Life of the process

The government IT process can be defined in terms of a five-step human life cycle.

1. Concept exploration -- or "the gleam in someone's eye."

2. Program definition and risk reduction -- or birth.

3. Engineering and manufacturing development --or maturing into adulthood.

4. Production, fielding, deployment, and operational support -- or the product's productive career.

5. Disposal -- or death and proper burial.

In the first step , concept exploration, the company team used the GE process of identifying business needs, doing a benchmark analysis, determining strategic goals, forming a cross-functional project team, and determining operational performance measures. To ensure they were working toward the right goals, the team also surveyed the manufacturing operators.

The operators had strong opinions about how they wanted the system to work. Among the comments were: "We want procedures to be easy to read and use," "We want an easier way to find the right procedure," and "We want additional or updated procedures for key business functions."

From this feedback, the team determined that the new quality management system would need to include the following features:

- Paperless, fast, easily accessible document control

- Accurate and updated procedures

- Reduced operator execution errors

- Foundation for training

- Embedded objects (diagrams, pictures, audio, and video).

During the second step , program definition and risk reduction , the cross-functional team used the GE process to determine software measurements, conduct risk analysis, analyze possible solutions based on information gathered during benchmarking, and justify requirements for project funding. In addition, the team analyzed system requirements and designed the system architecture.

The system requirement analysis involved the following steps, which were taken from the government process.

1. Analyze user input.

2. Define the operational concept by:

- Analyzing the current system or situation

- Analyzing the problems and opportunities in the current system

- Using the analysis to define the objectives and scope of the new system.

3. Define the new system requirements to include its:

- Capability and function requirements

- External and internal interface requirements

- Hardware, software, and firmware resource requirements.

4. Prioritize all system requirements.

During the system architecture design, the following steps (also drawn from the government process) were taken.

1. Make system-wide design decisions, such as:

- Determining inputs to accept and outputs to produce

- Determining system performance characteristics.

2. Develop the system architectural design by:

- Defining the system's components according to hardware and software configuration items

- Defining each component's interface characteristics

- Defining each component's development type (new or reuse)

- Defining the system approach (single, two, or multitiered)

- Defining the database model to be used

- Defining the system's hardware resources (CPU, memory, and I/O devices)

- Defining the system's software resources (programming languages, operating systems, and database management systems

- Defining the system's local area network resources (servers, cabling, modems, etc.)

- Defining the system's wide area network resources (routers, gateways, cabling, and data lines).

Zeroing in on a system

Finally, a commercially available quality management system was selected. The system uses the company intranet to manage and display documents, such as operating procedures. The capabilities of the intranet satisfy all the requirements for the new system identified by the operators earlier. Documents can be searched by key words on any networked PC in the business. Using the hyperlinks in the documents, operators can access all related documents immediately from their work stations (see illustrations).

Once the solution was chosen, the project entered the third step of the life cycle process, engineering and manufacturing development . Here, our project team used the government process to complete detailed design, testing, and integration of the software, and integration and testing of the system. Ultimately, the new document management system became entirely electronic. It includes a revision history that logs the name of anyone working with a document, date approved and published, reasons for changes, and any rejection comments.

Once a procedure is published, all affected personnel are notified by e-mail that a new procedure is waiting in their "inbox" for review. Reviewers must log into the system to verify they have read and understand the procedure. The verification process can be done through online testing to make sure everyone knows what has changed. This procedure has eliminated the need for all paper followup.

With the engineered solution complete, the project entered the fourth step , production, fielding, deployment, and operational support . During this step, the program was installed, computers upgraded, operators trained, and the system implemented.

Achieving results

Results became apparent during this step. The review, approval, and publishing cycle of operating procedures has dropped from more than ten days to as little as one day, as measured and statistically verified through our rigorous six sigma process. In addition, anyone connected to the company's global intranet system is able to view the procedures. Already it has helped GE businesses share information across multiple continents.

Within three months of implementation of the new system, we saw a 75% increase in the number of employees using the documents in the system. The business also has tracked manufacturing improvements in quality and consistency to the new system.

And here the project departs from the government's acquisition process. Rather than moving into the fifth and final step of the life cycle, disposal , the team intends to return to the first step to determine if further refinements could lead to even more improvements.

Scott Haraburda has been a production engineer for Crystalline Finishing at GE Plastics since 1996. He has a B.S. degree in chemistry from Central Michigan University and an M.S. in chemical engineering from Michigan State University. He served on active duty with the rank of Major in the U.S. Army for 9 yr and also worked at Bayer Corp. prior to joining GE.

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